How to Discuss Same-Sex “Marriage” With Dissenting Family Members

SocratesI was out on the preaching circuit this past week and spoke at five parishes (including my own) on the biblical vision of Holy Matrimony (marriage) as set forth by God and the Church. The talks were sponsored by the pro-life group Defend Life.

While I cannot succinctly reproduce the talk in today’s blog, I spoke from notes that are available here and here. A video of one of the talks will be posted soon.

I heard a consistent concern voiced by those in attendance that pulpits have been too silent on this critical matter of marriage, and by extension, sexuality and the family. Since I don’t get around to many other parishes on Sundays, and I don’t have statistics or polls to consult, I can only assume that this complaint is widespread. That said, nothing prevents a Catholic layperson from breaking out the Catechism and teaching his or her children and grandchildren. There seems to be a lot of waiting around for the Church to “do something” regarding ignorance of the faith. Pulpits must get better, but so must adult religious education. Parents, too, must actively seek out sources for instruction so that they can learn and hand on the faith. I recommend two places, among many, to start: The Institute of Catholic Culture and Catholic Answers.

Another common question that came from distressed parents at the talks was how they could counteract the bewitching effect of modern culture on their children (30 and under) when it comes to the redefinition of marriage. Many of their young-adult children see “no problem” with same-sex unions (a.k.a. gay “marriage”) and parents wondered how to counter this position.

My recommendation would be to use the “Socratic method.” This method, rooted in the teaching style of Socrates, uses questions to stimulate critical thinking and to draw a person to find answers by examining his own premises. Rather than simply refuting the position of their young-adult child, it is often more helpful for parents to ask questions that permit him or her to see for himself/herself the faultiness and/or emptiness of the logic underlying this modern thinking. Today it seems that logic, critical thinking, and proper premises are often lacking.

The additional value of the Socratic method is that it requires the “accuser” (the one who wishes to set aside biblical and Catholic teaching) to account for his view rather than the faithful Catholic to mount a complete defense. The method also involves listening respectfully as the accuser speaks.

Consider a scenario in which an adult son or daughter makes some remark that indicates opposition to the Church teaching on traditional marriage. You might ask,

Do you oppose the fact that the Church upholds only traditional Marriage and rejects same-sex “marriage”?

Assuming the response is yes (or some form thereof), follow up with this question:

How do you define marriage?

Now just wait as long as necessary. Give no assistance, just wait patiently. Let the question hang there. It is quite likely that he or she will struggle to answer the question because those who have redefined marriage have not really redefined it at all; they have simply made it increasingly devoid of content. Saying what marriage isn’t is not the same as saying what it is.

The response might be something like this: “It’s when two people love each other and want to be together.” You might then pose some of the following questions:

Could you be more specific? For example, why do you say two people? Could it be more than two? Why or why not?


When you say, “two people” do you mean any two people? For example, what if the two people are related, such as being brother and sister, or two brothers, or a father and his? Must the two people who love each other have to be unrelated? If so, why?


You say that they love each other. Must this be the case? Are there other reasons they could marry other than love?

These are not intended to be merely “gotcha” questions. The purpose is to force the dissenter to stake out a cogent position by carefully thinking through his premises and where they lead. If the dissenter responds to the above questions with some limits, it forces him to consider why those limits make sense while others (such as one man and one woman) do not.

The Church knows what marriage is and so does God, who taught us clearly (in Genesis 2 and other places) that marriage is one man for one woman in a life-long, committed, and faithful relationship, open to the procreation and rearing of children.

This traditional definition is clear, sets limits, and has been the way marriage has been understood for thousands of years. Those who wish to remove these limits must account for what restrictions are left and why they think those should be kept rather than also set aside.

Just ask these questions. Wait for answers. Wait as long as necessary and don’t help. Let them think through it and become more responsible for what they think and the implications that emerge from it.

In this video from Catholic Answers, Trent Horn makes significant use of the Socratic method. In this case the topic happens to be atheism, but it gives a good idea illustration of how the method might work. Atheism is a complex topic. Defining marriage is far less complex since the field of the discussion is more focused.

Men Are More Disinclined to Marry Than Ever – A Reflection on a Serious Problem

A 2012 report on men and marriage by the Pew Research Center shows statistically what many of us have noticed anecdotally: men are finding marriage less desirable than in the past and are now marrying later, if at all.

In today’s post I want to present some excerpts from a hard-hitting article that appeared at Lifesite News in 2013, commenting on the Pew study. The full article can be read here: Men Giving Up on Marriage.

As usual, I present the text from the original article in bold, black italics, while my own poor commentary is in plain red text.

Fewer young men in the US want to get married than ever. … The number of young adult men saying that having a successful marriage is one of the most important things dropped from 35 percent to 29 percent [since 1997].

The latest census data showed “barely half” of all adults in the United States are currently married, a “record low.” Since 1960, the number of married adults has decreased from 72 percent to 51 [percent] today and the number of new marriages in the U.S. declined by five percent between 2009 and 2010.

Moreover, the median age at first marriage continues to rise, with women getting married the first time at 26.5 years and men at 28.7 [years]. The declines in marriage are “most dramatic” among young adults. Just 20 percent of those aged 18 to 29 are married, compared with 59 percent in 1960.

In my mere 26 years of priesthood, I have seen the number of weddings I perform each year decrease from 35 to 5, and the average age of engaged couples increase from 24 to 31. These are startling changes, and they largely match those experienced by other priests with whom I have discussed the matter.

29 percent of young adult men desiring marriage is an amazingly low figure. The article notes that the things that once motivated men to marry in the past are largely in eclipse now. Men once enjoyed the esteem they garnered by marrying, and were motivated by the challenge of being breadwinners. Getting married was once a proper and approved way of attaining status, and legitimately enjoying sexual intimacy. It was part of the passage to manhood.

But today, many (if not most) women don’t need (or don’t think they need) men to provide for them economically. It’s goodbye to any notion of the esteem of being a provider.

Further, in an age of promiscuity, most men don’t need marriage to open the door to sexual encounters. Only a few “old-fashioned” Catholic priests and traditionalist Catholics raise any eyebrows at men’s “playing the field.” And women as a group (with certain notable exceptions) seem less insistent on expecting men to connect sexual intimacy and marriage.

Add to this the financial bondage introduced by the racket that college education has become. Many young people graduate from college with six-figure debt. And when undergraduate degrees no longer open doors, advanced degrees became necessary, bringing on even more debt.

And finally, add one more thing: pornography. It is more available than ever before. And though it is theoretically more privately accessible than previously, I would point out that there is nothing private about the Internet; Internet service providers know every site you have ever visited.

Sadly, many young men honestly admit that they prefer pornography to real women. Pornography doesn’t talk back or have preferences or moods. Real relationships are complex and require navigation and negotiation. Pornography, it would seem, is a narcissistic paradise. Click through to your current preference; it’s all about you and what you want. And at the end, the object of your fantasy disappears and does not have issues or attitudes with which you must deal.

The overall image is of a cauldron, filled with a witch’s brew or a satanic stew. That men and women marry at all today is increasingly miraculous. I always make a point of congratulating and thanking engaged couples that get to my rectory door for beating the odds and having the gumption to swim upstream.

Pew’s findings have caught the attention of one US writer who maintains that feminism, deeply entrenched in every segment of the culture, has created an environment in which young men find it more beneficial to simply opt out of [marriage] entirely

Suzanne Venker [in her] article, “The War on Men,” … points out that for the first time in U.S. history, the number of women in the workforce has surpassed the number of men, while more women than men are acquiring university degrees. …

With feminism pushing them out of their traditional role of breadwinner, protector, and provider—and divorce laws increasingly creating a dangerously precarious financial prospect for the men cut loose from marriage—men are simply no longer finding any benefit in it. …

“When I ask [men] why, the answer is always the same: women aren’t women anymore.” Feminism, which teaches women to think of men as the enemy, has made women “angry” and “defensive, though often unknowingly.” 

“Men are tired,” Venker wrote. “Tired of being told there’s something fundamentally wrong with them. Tired of being told that if women aren’t happy, it’s men’s fault.”

Most men I know perceive that they are often considered by the wider culture as deficient, even depraved. The “men are stupid” commercials and sitcoms abound. Men are often presented as buffoons, who need women and children to “set them straight” on the simplest of things.

Schools, dominated by feminist ideology, have made a pathology of the normal behavior of boys, which includes competition and roughhousing. They seek to feminize boys, going even so far as to encourage medication for them. Most of these boys merely have the spit and vinegar that was once considered normal, needing to be curbed somewhat rather than suppressed with drugs.

It is little wonder that fewer young men make it to college and are falling behind young women in almost every category. Being told (even indirectly) on a regular basis that you are fundamentally flawed has a significant effect over time.

The article says that feminism has emboldened many women to direct suspicious anger toward men and generally presume that they have bad or evil motives. But it has also caused a lot of men to draw back from the healthy confidence that once bolstered them to go out and seek a wife and to take a leadership role in the community, the Church, and the family.

A feminist culture in effect shames these desires as being “patriarchal.”

This is a situation that should not be celebrated by feminists, Venker says. “It’s the women who lose. Not only are they saddled with the consequences of sex … The fact is, women need men’s linear career goals … in order to live the balanced life they seek.”

Yes, in the end it’s usually the biology that kicks in. Truth be told, men and women are meant to be complementary not competitive. Our very body bespeaks a difference that requires the opposite sex to complement it. The design of women’s bodies speaks to bearing children and nurturing them.

A woman who wants to have and raise children well needs time and flexibility. The 9-to-5 career world does not facilitate that. Thus her husband complements her need by taking up the linear and less-flexible career world, leaving her freer to nurture the children.

This used to be obvious to us. But ideology is often disinterested in the obvious. It may be true that we were once too restrictive, limiting certain jobs and careers to men. But for most women, the freedom to work has become the duty to work, even in the childbearing years. It’s a raw deal for everyone: women, men, and especially children.

The bottom line is, it’s never good for anyone, or for civilization as a whole, when huge numbers opt out of or find no access to our most fundamental building block: the traditional family. We must save traditional marriage if we stand any chance of saving our dying civilization.

For further reading, consider Men and Marriage by George Guilder and Eggs are Expensive, Sperm is Cheap by Greg Krehbiel.

“In Sickness and in health,”as seen in a powerful cartoon.

012414-pope-1The video below has a scary side to it. Although it is a cartoon, I do not recommended for the youngest children, simply because it is scary. But its message is an important one on several different levels

First, its title “In sickness…” is a reminder of one of the aspects of the marital vow, namely, that the spouses will remain true and faithful to each other “in sickness and in health.” The video shows the power of faithful and abiding love to bring healing, consolation, and peace in some of life’s darkest hours. The opening darkness and delirium of the sick man gives way quickly when his wife embraces him in love.  The confident conclusion of the medical doctor (who in the dream is not able to stave off the attack) is based firmly on the fact that the man is in the care and embrace of his loving wife. All is well. Love conquers even death.

But of course, physical illnesses are not the only struggles endured in life and hence the man’s fears and dreams may also be seen as a metaphor for the Scripture which says  the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. But resist him, firm in your faith (1 Peter 5:8-9)  And of course one of the most central aspects of faith is that we should love one another, and help each other through life struggles.  When one is weak, the other is strong, and Woe to the solitary man; if he falls he has no one to help him up (Eccles 4:10). Love and understanding,  provide a sure support in getting through the dark moments of life.

Perhaps finally, woman in the story extending love can also be seen Mother Church showing love, prayerfully embracing us in our struggles, both in sickness in darkness.

Enjoy the video. As I say, the opening section is scary but light comes!

Some Sober Reflection on Matrimony, Sexuality and the Family. A Call to Prayer for the Upcoming Synod.

“Jay & Janet Nuptial” by John Ryan Cordova from Philippines This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license.

We’ve talked a good deal about the decline of marriage on this blog over the years. And our discussion must continue as the Synod on the family is planned in Rome.

In my short 25 years as a priest I have experienced a major drop off in marriages. In my early years, I had about thirty weddings a year; now, about five or six. In this urban parish in which I have ministered for the larger part of 20 years, a beautiful and picturesque setting for a matrimonial sacrament, we used to have to turn couples away who were not members. Some Saturdays featured two weddings back to back. Beginning in 2000, weddings plummeted.

And lest you think this just unique to me in my urban parish, note that in 1973 there just over 400,000 weddings in Catholic parishes in this country. In 2003, there were 199,645, more that a 50% drop in thirty years. Last year, 2012, there 166,991 weddings in the Church. Compare that to the 419,278 funerals and you have a pretty good picture of a Church and a culture that are in real trouble and of the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony that is “dying.” Thus my anecdotal experience matches the national trends and numbers.

Recently Mona Charen offered some thoughtful reflections on Marriage in National Review. I would like to offer her comments along with some of my own. Note that I am excerpting her article, the full version of which is here: The Marriage Divide.  In that article she speaks of the sources of some of her statistics and offers context that these excerpts may not include. Hence I recommend the full article as well. As usual, her comments are in Black, bold, italics. My remarks are in plain red text.

Marriage is decaying very fast. As recently as the 1980s, …only 13 percent of the children of moderately educated mothers…were born outside of marriage. Today, it is 44 percent. Even more disturbing are the recent data showing that 53 percent of babies born to women under age 30 are non-marital.

I will only add that these sorts of number are simply shocking, not just for their real impact but also for how swiftly this revolution has come upon us. One struggles not to see outright demonic along with the usual human sinfulness that produces cultural ailments.

If you graduate from college, you are likely to choose a family life similar to, if not quite identical to, the 1950s ideal. (I suspect eve this is beginning to change for the worse). If you are a high-school dropout, you are unlikely to marry at all. If you have a high-school diploma or some college, your family life in many cases is going to be chaotic, featuring cohabitation, short marriages, and high rates of instability….cohabiting couples have a much higher breakup rate than do married couples, a lower level of household income, and a higher level of child abuse and domestic violence. (She speaks to some of the sources of these sober trends in her article).

[C]ohabitation is a very bad deal for all concerned — especially women and children. The children of cohabiting couples do worse than those living with a single mother if the boyfriend is not the biological father of the children. The break-up rate among unmarried cohabiting couples is much higher than among married couples, with all that that entails for disruption, poverty, and pathology.

And again, it is the children who pay most and first for all this adult misbehavior. But the damage does not stop there, as can be seen.

I would also like to say that regarding the cohabitation problem, there are two levels to the problem: the young who do it, and the parents and grandparents who actively or passively approve of it. Once upon a time, even in my short 52 years, this behavior was not only frowned upon, it was punished at both the family and cultural level. Folk who “shacked up” received significant pressure: financial, social, familial and cultural, to stop “living in sin.”

The sexual revolution, with a thinking strongly tied in with a lot of hallucinogenic drugs, sold us a bill of goods that it was really “better” for a couple to “take a test ride” before tying the knot. For at least two decades now the data have exposed this as a lie. But the lie continues.

Bottom line, cohabitation harms everyone: man, woman, child, society, culture, the Church, the family, everyone. We stamp out smoking but celebrate something that causes even more harm. Time to wake up. Cohabitation is sinful and harmful.

In a 2001 survey, two-thirds of respondents approved of living together before marriage. Even then, data suggested that couples who cohabited before marriage were more likely to divorce than those who went straight to the altar….

Men cohabit with less expectation of permanence than women do. Many couples not destined for marriage waste good years in impermanent arrangements, often becoming parents….

Ms. Charen also developed the economic implications of cohabitation:

President Obama addressed income inequality in a recent address but failed to mention one of the most significant contributors to rising inequality in America — the marriage gap. Jobs are changing, international competition has driven down wages, top executives are pulling down enormous salaries, but it is cultural patterns, specifically personal decisions about cohabitation and marriage, that are most responsible for deepening the divide between haves and have-nots in America.

There is perhaps no greater correlation than the one between poverty and single-motherhood (absent fatherhood). And so many of the other social ills that we lament and decry come from irresponsible sexual activity.

Unlike trust funds, marriage is available to everyone and confers the same benefits on rich and poor. There is no substitute for two married parents who care for one another in sickness, help each other in child and elder care, watch the kids while a spouse takes night classes, and contribute to thriving communities. In-laws give loans, jobs, and other support that they are unlikely to extend to live-in “significant others.

Without the basics of security and permanence in their personal lives, people find it much more difficult to rise out of poverty or to maintain a middle-class life. They are also far less happy. If you care about the poor and the middle class, you ought to worry about marriage.

Amen. And yet many of those who most claim to care about the poor are loathe to discuss marriage or sexuality as factors in poverty.

I remember once being at a meeting of largely socially liberal clergy who were arguing that one of the “greatest threats” that young people face and the reason for dropping test scores and higher dropout rates in our city was lead paint and roach feces in the homes and schools. And thus the city should spend money to abate these things and (theoretically) the lower test scores etc., would rebound.

When I spoke, I said it would nice to get rid of these problems, but I thought there were bigger issues at work than lead paint and roach droppings. Perhaps, I stated, that single motherhood and teenage pregnancy were likely bigger factors in low test scores, higher dropout rates, and growing juvenile crime.

Well,  I received a scorn you can only imagine. I was passed a note by one of the leaders that I was “off message” and that I should keep my moral opinions to myself.

Somehow I figured that clergy might “get” what I was saying. Though scorned, I stood my ground, and insisted that the social devastation of sexual irresponsibility far out weighed many of the other things people obsess about. Fine, lets remove lead paint and clean up after the roaches and even stamp out smoking. But how about working to restore families? What of preaching and teaching God’s plan for marriage and sexuality? What of the extremely deleterious effects of sexual irresponsibility, cohabitation, divorce, and so many other trends that are out of control?

Even as we pass laws forbidding smoking almost everywhere, we seem to forget that before 1969 it was pretty hard to get a divorce in this country. People were generally expected to work their difficulties out, and be married to the father or mother of their children.

While there are rumors that some in the Church are going to pressure to Synod Fathers to change Church Law in the admittance of divorced and remarried Catholics to Communion, I rather doubt that will happen. It is my prayer that the Synod Fathers and members will focus rather on fixing the problems rather than lowering standards. We have a lot to answer for in the Church for the horrifying confusion today about marriage. We have not been clear on marriage and too many clergy don’t want to upset people who haven’t been able to attain to, or keep stable and marriages and families after God’s own design. We have been to silent. And to what degree people do know of our teachings, many find them unintelligible when we hand out annulments in the numbers we do,  and have so many complicated rules about the wedding ceremony but so little followup after the wedding day.

That said, I don’t think it fair to blame the Church wholly for the mess. Our culture clearly went over the cliff in 1968 and 1969 with the sexual revolution and no fault divorce. Contraception celebrated the lie that there was “no necessary connection” between sex and procreation, and also furthered the lie of sex without consequences. 55 million abortions later (Since 1973), our families in the shredder, and the lie is manifest, but many still choose to believe it. Sex without consequences? No such thing.

Pray for the Synod upcoming. Pray for clarity and prophetic teaching. Pray.

A Brief Explanation of the Nuptial Meaning of the Body.

120513Some of you know that I write the Question and Answer Column for Our Sunday Visitor Newsweekly. I like doing that as it imposes a kind of disciplined writing on me, where I must answer questions very briefly, in about 400 words or less.

A question recently came in about a topic that I have not written much about here on the Blog. I’d like to reproduce the question and answer here in order to include the concept in my blog compendium and also to encourage you, if you do not read my column in the Sunday Visitor to know about it and read it.

Thus here is the question and answer which will appear in the paper in an even more abbreviated form:

Q: I have heard that women cannot be priests because Jesus chose only twelve men to be apostles. I understand this. The priest recently said that another reason is because of the “nuptial meaning” of the body. What does this mean?

A: To speak of the nuptial meaning of the body, means that the very design of our body orients us toward a marital (nuptial) relationship. The man is obviously meant for the woman, and the woman for the man. And in this complementary relationship that we call marriage, there is the fruitfulness of children.

In effect, our body says to us, “You were made for another who will complement and complete you, and make your love fruitful.”

Now this image of marriage, is also an image for the spiritual life wherein God speaks of his relationship to his people in marital, that is “nuptial” imagery. In the Old Testament Israel was frequently described as God’s bride, and his relationship to her is marital. In the New Testament, Jesus is the Groom and his Church, is his bride. The Church, with all her members, is called to relate to the Lord, to be completed by Him and complemented by him; such that relationship of love bears fruit.

The Sacrament of Holy Matrimony, therefore, is also a sacrament and sign of God’s relationship to His people; He the Groom, we the bride.

Even celibate men and women, priests and religious, manifest by their lives the nuptial meaning of the human person in relation to God. As a priest, I am not a bachelor, I am not single. I have a bride, and she is the Church. Religious Sisters also manifest a marital relationship, where Jesus is the groom and they manifest a relationship to him as spouse, as bride.

To speak, therefore, of the “nuptial meaning” of the body, is to insist that our sexual distinctions of male and female are not merely arbitrary physical aspects. Rather, they bespeak deeper, spiritual realities, that we must learn to appreciate, and respect. Men and women are different, and manifest different aspects of God’s relationship to these people. Women, manifest the glory of the Church Bride. Men manifest the glory of Christ as Groom.

In terms of the priesthood, this is important because Christ, in his humanity, is not simply male, he is Groom. And the Sacred Liturgy of the Church is not just a celebration, it is a wedding feast: Christ the Groom, intimately with his Bride the Church.

Thus, your pastor is invoking a rich theological teaching, which helps to explain one reason why Christ chose only men for the priesthood.

We do well to recover this understanding of the nuptial meaning of the body, especially in times like these where the meaning of the body, of sexuality, and marriage are so deeply confused.

Here is the great Wedding Song of Advent:

Here is footage of my parents Nuptial Mass in 1959. They were 46 years married. My mother died in 2005, and my Father died in 2007. My they rest in peace!

Four Factors That Fuel the Crisis in Marriage and Family

By Jeff Belmonte from Cuiabá, Brazil (Flickr)  Licensed under  CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons
By Jeff Belmonte from Cuiabá, Brazil (Flickr) Licensed under CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Many of you are aware that there is an Extraordinary Synod planned in Rome on the family.   There is surely no hiding the fact that the family is in real crisis, at least in the modern Western World, if not throughout many other parts as well. We do well to ponder the reasons and roots of this crisis, and develop strategies to begin to address the many problems.

At the recent Bishops Conference Meeting here in America, Cardinal Sean O’Malley made some remarks that I would like to draw upon, even as I make some remarks of my own. Basing my reflections on the Cardinal’s remarks, it would seem that there are at least four fundamental factors that contribute to our current difficulties regarding marriage and family. Lets look at each of them in turn, even if briefly and also interweave the Cardinals remarks.

I. Family history –  Two critical factors came together very difficult years of the late 1960s which together have had a very destructive effect on Holy Matrimony and the family.

The sexual revolution which began in the late 1950s picked up steam into the 60s and went boldly public in the year 1968, with the so-called “Summer of Love” in places like Haight Ashbury Park in San Francisco, and on many other college campuses and similar places.  At that time there were many who boldly shed any pretense of shame or guilt regarding open sexual sin and unchastity. What people used to whisper about as something shocking, was now boldly celebrated by increasing numbers in the culture.

The following year, in 1969 the first no-fault divorce laws began to be passed. Divorce, which until that time had been a difficult and lengthy process in America, now become something that could be accomplished in a matter of weeks.

These two very crucial events began a process which rather dramatically and quickly eroded Matrimony and and the family, such that we are now into the second, and in some cases, third generation of younger people, who have never known a world is stable marriages, and two-parent families. Large numbers of young people have never experienced living with both their father and mother for the duration of their formative years. More and more of them have no real models of faithful, stable, traditional marriages to look to. Is very clear, that without these sorts of models, even young people who want to embrace traditional marriage, struggle to do so, lacking any experience how exactly is done.

For all the Church’s attempts at marriage preparation, and pre-Cana classes, without strong family models it is hard to apply whatever might be learned in such classes and formation.

Cardinal O’Malley says, Half of the children born to that demographic [working class families] are born out of wedlock,” a statistic that Cardinal O’Malley said would have been “inconceivable” a few decades ago. [1]

Indeed, in the African American community which I have largely served, in 1961 (the year of my birth) 80% of Black children were raised in two-parent families, Today that number is 20%. The statistics in the wider culture, as noted, are not much better and continue to drop. The change is nothing short of astonishing.

All of this leads to a dynamic of family history and personal experience that are not promising for traditional Marriage or the family.

II. Fornication –  In the current cultural setting, following the sexual revolution that came out in the open in 1968, premarital sex, and cohabitation, have become epidemic. This has had a number of deleterious effects on Holy Matrimony and the family.

In the first place it takes away one of the stronger incentives to marriage that existed in the past, namely the desire of sexual intimacy and pleasure. Marriage in the culture of that time provided a context in which sexual intimacy was not only considered legitimate, but also honored and esteemed. Now, with the explosion of promiscuity and with such behavior no longer shunned, Marriage looses one of its draws. Most young people can obtain the sex they desire without the once demanded admission requirements.

Secondly a whole host of social ills accompanies fornication, and cohabitation (once called “shacking up” or living in sin). And these social evils and ills negatively impact Holy Matrimony.

Abortion has exploded on the scene. And whereas in the past a child conceived before marriage would move the couple to the sacred altar, now recourse to abortion, and even more viciously the expectation by men that women should “rid” them of the problem by abortion is the prevailing attitude.

AIDS, and sexually transmitted diseases like herpes, also make people less desirable as marriage partners.

And of course teenage pregnancy, single motherhood, etc, make many women less desirable for or prone to marriage and further the expectation that men should be able to move about sexually without commitment or responsibility.

Cohabitation also “permits” couples to play house, and the unwritten rule is that they can come as go as they please with little social repercussion to them.

Cardinal O’Malley says, The whole notion of family is so undercut by the cohabitation mentality, and these social trends are having a tremendous impact on the working-class communities who were once the backbone of the Church…This shift away from the bearing of children within wedlock is the “biggest threat to marriage. [2]

God lists fornication as among the sins that exclude one from the Kingdom of Heaven (e.g. Eph 5:3-9; 1 Cor. 6:9-11, inter al). Given the dreadful impact fornication has on Holy Matrimony and the Family, one can see why God takes sins of these sorts seriously. Of course the ones who pay the price for all this adult sexual misconduct, are children.

God  links chastity to respect for Marriage, and promiscuity He regards as a dishonoring of Marriage: Marriage is to be held in honor among all, and the marriage bed is to be undefiled; for God will judge fornicators and adulterers  (Heb 13:4).

III. Finances – In this matter Cardinal O’Malley says succinctly: Part of the problems are economic…Our educational system is so expensive, people graduate from college or graduate school facing huge debts. If you have a $150,000 debt when you graduate law school, are you going to marry a girl that has a $130,000 debt and start off your marriage with over a quarter-million dollars’ debt? So people are postponing marriage – are postponing a decision to go into the seminary or religious life – because they’re saddled under this tremendous debts which former generations didn’t have. [3]

We have discussed and debated on this blog before the notion that college is overrated and obscenely expensive. And for all the talk from the social liberals who dominate faculties and administration in these colleges, they seldom lift a finger to cut the costs of their overrated product. Instead they scold us for not caring enough about the poor and their burdens, while they live quite well off the future income of their students who are increasingly too poor to marry or raise children.

Almost no one among those who lecture us about justice will talk about this.

Student debt is becoming a huge factor in postponing marriage and also vocations to the priesthood and religious life.

IV. Formation struggles – Cardinal O’Malley  says the Church needs “better marriage preparation” and outreach to help young people recover an understanding of marriage. He says the Church needs to “catechize our young people and instill in them a sense of vocation, and also to help them understand what courtship is about.”

He adds that this becomes even more important for: In combination with the misunderstanding of marriage, lack of attendance at Mass, and the shortcomings in the catechesis of young people, the Church also faces many challenges posed by the secularization of the culture. [4]

Indeed, the teachings of the Church on the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony have been poorly conveyed to God’s people. And for many  people, what they do hear unintelligible. For example they may well hear: Marriage is forever, but if it doesn’t work out for you we will get you annulment, and remember, an annulment is NOT a divorce! Or again they may hear that even though Protestants can get married while skydiving with a Justice of the Peace, and it valid, if a Catholic gets married outside the Church, it is invalid. Etc…

People struggle to figure all this out. And while there ARE answers to these puzzlements, they remain difficult obstacles in speaking coherently to people who are poorly catechized and more influenced by the secular world than the Church in this regard.

A chief place for us to begin rebuilding the case for traditional Marriage is resetting the premise of the discussion. Marriage is not first and foremost about what is best and most pleasing to the adults in the equation. Marriage is about children and what is best for them. Marriage is not about the rights of adults per se, it is about what is justly due to children.

Marriage takes its structure and mission as an institution based on the fact that every child deserves and has a birthright to be raised by by a father and mother, who have committed themselves to a stable and loving union, so as to give their child a  stable an loving upbringing under the formative influence of both a male and female, that is their own parents.

This, it seems is where we must begin. More on this here: Getting the Marriage Conversation Right. Other things are surely required, but here is a good place to start, right where the modern secular premise goes 180° wrong.

And thus, in these four fundamental factors a perfect storm begins to brew that has severely damaged the understanding of the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony and the Institution of Traditional Marriage. Other factors also influence, but as we prepare to the Extraordinary Synod, Cardinal O’Malley’s remarks help frame a discussion of the problem and a way forward.

Later we can also discuss some of the questions put forward in the working document of the Synod.

A Downturn Described And a Way Back Prescribed – On the Shocking Decline in the Number of Marriages

I was ordained just over 21 years ago. In those days, I used to have a lot more marriages and baptisms. In fact, my calendar was usually quite full from May – July with weddings.  Sometimes I would have two weddings on one Saturday. There was real competition for a bride to get her date. And, as for baptisms, I remember that sometimes doing 15 at a time on a Sunday afternoon was not uncommon. Even in those days the older priests all said business was way down.

These days the decline in marriage is very evident. In some of the smaller parishes there hasn’t been a wedding for several years. Even in the larger ones, as few as four or five a year isn’t uncommon.

Most of my information  on this has been anecdotal until now. However, I was introduced to a great blog by the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA). The Blog is Here: CARA Blog. There is lots of good data available and plenty of graphs and charts that paint a statistical picture of the Church. Some of the pictures are troubling indeed. Consider this one that depicts the decline in marraige and baptisms over the past 50 years:

You can click on the Chart to get a clearer picture. The chart depicts the number of marriages and baptisms per 1000 Catholics in the USA. As you can see, the number of baptisms has really plummeted  from over 36 in the 1950s to just over 12 in 2009. That’s a drop of 76%! Marriage has shown a similar and steady decline from about 12 in 1950 to just under 3 in 2009. That too is a drop of almost 75%

This depicts a major crisis in marriage and the family and I don’t think I am exaggerating to say that trends like these are civilization killers. Conditions are far worse in Europe it would seem, though I do not have statistics to present here.

The CARA Blog is more sanguine than I and states:

Despite these trends, the absolute number of Catholics in the United States continues to grow because the number of children born and raised Catholic has been generally sufficient to replace previous generations (life expectancies have risen as well) and other Catholics are added to the population through adult conversion from other faiths and through immigration of Catholics from other countries (even as some who are raised Catholic leave the faith at some point). Since the 1940s, the percentage of the U.S. population self-identifying as Catholic has remained remarkably stable at about 22% to 24%. [1]

In other words, thank God for immigrants. Without them the Church here would be in a far worse crisis. But even with them, it appears we are in a rather significant crisis and will likely see Churches and schools continue to close and consolidate in the years ahead.

More than ever, we the clergy and and Catholic families need to powerfully re-evangelize on the vocation of marriage emphasizing its high calling and dignity. It is absolutely essential that marriage become a frequent focus of preaching, teaching and parish celebrations. Marriage should be encouraged among the young, taught of soberly and realistically, but also in a way that emphasizes its dignity and high calling. Much celebration can and should accompany a wedding in the wider parish. Perhaps the old custom of announcing banns of marriage can be reintroduced. Newly married couples returning from honeymoons might be publicly blessed at a Sunday Mass and a yearly recognition of married couples at Masses should be  considered.

A second facet of this should include a re-evangelization on the value of larger families. I ask the couples I prepare to consider having a larger family. I remind them that we are depending on them in very important ways to bring forth children and raise them Catholic. I remind them that the Scriptures say to be fruitful and multiply (Gen 1:18), not just to replace yourself. Hence three or more children is an expectation that seems implied by the Biblical text. Some of the couples think I’m crazy, but,  little by little, my parish is getting used to hearing about larger families again.

And there is some good news on this front statistically. The percentage of people considering three or more children to be an ideal family size is going up again. This number reached its low in 1998 when only 36% of respondents considered three or more children ideal. But the number is rising steadily since then and last year 43% of respondents considered three or more children ideal [2].

So, here is a worthy task: recovering respect for the gifts of marriage and children. We may not see sudden reversals, but we can chip away at it. Even to get young people used to hearing of the blessings of marriage and children is a start. I have often joshed with my parishioners that one of the pillars of my evangelization plan is have our young people get married (FIRST), have lots of babies and raise them Catholic. They often laugh though they know I am not merely joshing. They’re getting used to hearing of large families again. To some extent that is going to have to be the first step: reintroducing concepts as rational and normal which had been discarded as crazy and out of date. Little by little, this tide can change. Little by little, brick by brick. The first step to making a 1000 mile journey is to put one foot in front of the other and just keep doing it.

Here’s a little sermon clip of mine that I posted originally back in January:

An”Unpopular”Teaching on Marriage

OK, so many of you who went to Mass today hear the “Infamous”  line:  Wives  should be subordinate to their Husbands as to the Lord. For the Husband is the husband is head of his wife just as Christ is the Head of the Church…so wives should be subordinate to their husbands in everything; (Eph 5:20-21, 23) Well apparently the Holy Spirit didn’t get the memo that we don’t think and talk like that today!  🙂

Alright, so maybe it grates on modern ears today but don’t just dismiss what God teaches here. One of the great dangers of this passage is that it is so startling to modern ears that many people tune out after the first line into their own thoughts and reactions and thus miss the rest of what God has to say. You may notice that there is text that follows and before a man gloats at the first line or a women reacts with anger or sadness we do well to pay attention to the rest of the text which spells out the duties of a husband. You see if you’re going to be the head of a household there are certain requirements that have to be met. God’s not playing around here or choosing sides. He has a comprehensive plan for husbands  that is demanding and requires him to curb any notions that authority is about power and to remember that,  for a Christian, authority is always given so that the one who has it may serve  (cf  Mark 10:42-45).

So what are the requirements for a husband?

  1. Husbands, love your wives– Pay attention men, don’t just tolerate your wife,  don’t just bring home money, don’t just love in some intellectual sort of way. LOVE your wife with all your heart. Beg God for  the grace to love your wife tenderly, powerfully and unconditionally. Did you hear what God says? LOVE your wife! Now he goes on to tell you to love her in three ways: passionately, purifyingly and providingly.
  2. Passionate loveeven as Christ loved the Church and handed himself over for her. The Greek word (Paradidomi) translated here as “handed over” always refers in the New Testament to Jesus’ crucifixion. Husbands, are you willing to give your life for your wife and children? Are you willing to die to yourself and give your life as a daily sacrifice for them? God instructs you to love your wife (and children) with the same kind of love he has for his Bride the Church. That kind of love is summed up in the cross. Love your wife passionately, be willing to suffer for her, be willing to make sacrifices for her and the children.
  3. Purifyingly to sanctify her, cleansing her by the bath of water with the word, that he might present to himself the church in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. Now a husband cannot sanctify his wife in the same way God can. But what a husband is called to do is to help his wife and children grow in their relationship to Jesus Christ. He is first to  be under God’s authority himself and thus make it easier for his wife and children to live out their baptismal commitments. He ought to a spiritual leader in his home, praying with his wife and children, reading scripture and seeing to it that his home is a place where God is loved and obeyed, first of all by him. His wife should not have to drag him to Church, he should willingly help her to grow in holiness and pray with her every day. And he should become more holy as well and thus make it easier for his wife to live the Christian life.
  4. ProvidinglySo also husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself.  For no one hates his own flesh but rather nourishes and cherishes it – Husbands, take care of your wife in her needs. She needs more than food money and shelter, these days she can get a lot of that for herself. What she needs even more is your love, understanding, and appreciation. She needs for you to be a good listener and wants an attentive husband who is present to her. Like any human being she needs reassurance and affirmation. Tell her of your love and appreciation, don’t just presume she knows. Show care for your wife, attend to her needs just like you instinctively do for your own self.  That’s what God is teaching here.

OK, so scripture DOES teach that a wife should be submitted to her husband. But what kind of husband does scripture have in mind? A husband who really loves his wife, who is a servant leader, who is makes sacrifices for his wife, who is prayerful and spiritual, submitted to God’s authority and who cares deeply for his wife and her needs. The same God who teaches submission (and he does) also teaches these things clearly for the husband. The teaching must be taken as a whole.

For more on this consider listening to my sermon on this from today. It is here (Teaching on Marriage) in mp3 format. It is 35 minutes!  but consider downloading it if you can’t listen just now. You can download this and other sermons of mine by going here: then right clicking on the title of any talk and selecting the “Save Target As”  option. You can also get my sermons at iTunes. Just search on my name. Perhaps put this or other sermons on your iPod and listen when you get the chance.

This video clip is from the movie Fireproof and depicts a heartfelt apology from a husband who realizes he has not loved his wife as he should. A beautiful movie available at Amazon if you have never seen it.